This topic is hard for me to discuss because my feelings of rage, fear, disbelief, and utter helplessness are so overwhelming. The other day, in the news, they publicly announced a national shortage of the cancer fighting drug, Methotrexate. Methotrexate is one of the KEY drugs in the treatment of children with Leukemia. My daughter, Skyler, has been getting it since her diagnosis in December and is supposed to continue receiving it weekly for the next two years, minimum. Doctors and hospitals fear they may run out of it in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner.
While childhood Leukemia used to be considered an incurable disease, Methotrexate has significantly changed that. With the use of this drug, cure rates are now reported to be as high as ninety percent. Without this essential drug, that will all change. Innocent children who once had a chance will die. There is no other way to say it, they will die.
Upon hearing this news, I immediately called Skyler's oncologist -- hoping they were going to tell me not to worry -- that this was just a case of the media blowing things out of proportion, as they normally do. They acknowledged the shortage, told me not to worry YET and that they would cut the medication from patients with other less life threatening conditions, FIRST. Not exactly the comforting answer I was desperately hoping for.
How could this happen? One of the few companies that make this drug has reported quality control issues and has ceased production of the drug. I've heard different reasons for the slowdown in production from the other companies, none of which are excusable. The worst part is, apparently the government and medical community knew this was coming, but failed to do whatever was necessary to prevent it.
Some say it is a lack of profit issue. There is apparently not a large profit margin with this drug. Does that seem legit, in any sense of the imagination? I understand businesses focus on their bottom line but when it comes down to stopping a drug that saves children's' lives to increase said bottom line, I can't think of anything less ethical. And the government...if they knew this was coming, needs to step in and subsidize these companies if it is, in fact, about money. I won't get started with innumerable, utterly ridiculous things the government spends OUR money on, but they need to knock it off and fix this mess. I am generally against the government stepping in and telling us what to do. But if they're going to do it, do it now. Stop telling us what size french fries we should order for our kids and help innocent children who are fighting for their lives.
Nothing compares to the emotions you experience when you initially learn your child has cancer. But, what I'm feeling now is worse in a way. Last week, I believed she had a ninety percent chance. Now, if they can't figure out this mess, those odds significantly go down. The only thing keeping me sane is denial. The thought of this shortage actually resulting in my child not getting the medication she needs to live is not something that I can contemplate being a reality. The news says it is, but it can't be. I know many other parents are feeling the same way.
It's been reported that three of the four companies that produce Methotrexate are planning to dramatically step up production to make up for the company that stopped all together. Additionally, we are reportedly obtaining preservative-free Methotrexate from overseas to avert the shortage. This is hopeful but can they do it in time? And even if they do it in time, it's clear that this solution is only a band-aid. This essential medication will continue to be in demand and we need to figure out how to ensure such a possible catastrophe never happens again. With the innumerable, daily stressors parents of children with cancer face, not being able to obtain their kids' life-saving medication should not even be on the radar.
Although the immediate crisis appears to be diverted, although that is yet to be seen, if we don't figure out a solution to ensure this nightmare doesn't happen again, it will rear it's ugly head again in no time. To have one child's life shortened over something that could be prevented with the proper safeguards put in place is inexcusable.
Please consider contacting your congress people as well as the drug companies and urging them to take action. A simple e-mail may make a difference. I'm posting the contacts of the drug companies below. Thank you so much.
F. Michael Ball
Chief Executive Officer
275 North Field Drive
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
Chief Executive Officer
1500 Corporate Drive
Canonsburg, PA 15317
President, Sandoz US Head, Commercial Operations, NA
506 Carnegie Center, Suite 400
Princeton, NJ 08540
President and Chief Executive Officer
APP Pharmaceuticals, LLC
1501 East Woodfield Road, Suite 300 East
Schaumburg, IL 60173-5837